Twitter as a Marketing Tool

By Karlyn Morissette - Wed, Aug 20, 2008-->


Marketing, Promotion, Social Media

twitter whale Twitter as a Marketing ToolIn her guest post yesterday, Rachel Reuben argued that higher education hadn’t quite found a use for Twitter yet.  I’ve long argued that higher ed should be paying less attention to what other colleges are doing and more attention to what other industries are up to. While it may be true that few colleges out there are effectively utilizing Twitter, if they looked outside of its walls they would find many example of other industries utilizing it to effectively market to and communicate with their audiences.  

One of the most comprehensive lists of individuals or organizations who use Twitter is Jonathan Kash’s Twitter Brand Index.  This soon-to-be fellow alum from Norwich University’s MBA program has done a great job in compiling hundreds of cross-industry examples of organizations or individuals using Twitter.  Here are some of the highlights: 

  • Carnival Cruiselines, Delta Airlines, Southwest Air and JetBlue Airlines use it as a way to announce special deals and communicate with travelers.
  • Amazon has both Amazon Deals, which offers special deals on a new product every day, and their Book Finder bot. 
  • Dell has a whole slew of people you can follow, from all various parts of the business. 
  • Home Depot has someone in their corporate communications office that is “moonlighting on Twitter to help out our customers” 
  • Wine Enthusiast posts “Twitter only” deals on wine, polls for followers and generally amusing wine-related articles. 
  • H&R Block has someone on Twitter to engage customers and give tax advice. 
  • Non-profits such as the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and March of Dimes, post news stories and announcements that are of interest to their users. 
  • Government agencies are also getting in on the fun - NASA has over 2,000 followers, you can get live updates from both the House and the Senate, and many state and local governments are providing updates as well (including my home state of Vermont!).
  • If it’s culture you want, you can get it from a number of museums, including the Smithsonian and the US Holocaust Museum. 

I could keep going and going.  Note that with the exception of Dell, I stayed clear of all the tech-related examples on Jonathan’s list to prove a point - Twitter isn’t just for techies.  There is no reason why higher education cannot successfully use this tool when so many “traditional” organizations have.

There were two threads running throughout the better Twitter pages I viewed:  

  1. Special offers that are only available on Twitter: If you want people to follow you on Twitter, you have to give them a reason - something special they can’t get anywhere else.  
  2. A genuine effort to engage and (perhaps more importantly) help your users.  Yes, some of the sites I listed above just posted news stories and if people want that, more power to ‘em.  However, the ones like Home Depot and H&R Block, which not only posted useful information but also engaged with the people following them were far more compelling.  
Think about how your institution can use the tool beyond syndicating news releases and sports results.  How can you create value for prospective students, current students, parents, and alumni?  Here are a few ideas to get your started:
  • Give out an application/interview/campus visit tip of the day
  • Offer quirky advise to students who have enrolled and are going to be moving onto campus soon
  • Negotiate with your bookstore to offer occasional coupons and specials just for Twitter users
What other ideas can you come up with to get the higher ed Twitter bandwagon moving? 

This post was written by:

Karlyn Morissette

Karlyn Morissette - who has written 45 posts on .eduGuru

Karlyn Morissette is a thought leader and innovator in higher education. With over 12 years of web experience (half spent working exclusively on higher education web marketing initiatives), she helped pioneer many of the web strategies considered best practice today.

Today as the Director of Marketing Communications at Fire Engine RED, Karlyn works with colleges around the world to execute integrated marketing campaigns as a part of student search. She also teaches courses on Internet marketing and strategy at Champlain College as adjunct faculty. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication from Boston University and a Master of Business Administration from Norwich University.

To quote a friend of hers: "Karlyn is a super rad ninja marketing genius who will make your target demographic submit to your every whim through sheer willpower. Oh, and she's smarter than you."  We're not sure about the smarter part, but "super rad ninja" is true enough.

Compulsory disclaimer: The views expressed in Karlyn's posts are hers and hers alone, and do not represent those of any company she's affiliated with. Yes, it's true - the girl has a mind of her own. 

18 Responses to “Twitter as a Marketing Tool”

  1. Avatar image
    Mike R. Says:

    A few more potential higher ed uses:

    - A dedicated Twitter feed of athletics results, updated as soon as the game is over

    - What’s for lunch that day in the dining halls

    - retweet mentions of your institution in news papers or blogs

    - computing status updates (we’re doing this at Allegheny:


  2. Avatar image
    Melissa Cheater Says:

    Fantastic post, Karlyn! Way to light a fire under us. I agree that we should be looking to best in class and innovators - even if they are outside higher ed.


  3. Avatar image
    Andy DeSoto Says:

    Wow, loved this post, Karlyn, and definitely agree with your viewpoint. Great to see so many mainstream uses of Twitter compiled into one list; definitely going to have to refer friends back here to show them Twitter is far from leading edge only.

    One thought though: if you use Twitter to offer promotions and incentives to followers, doesn’t there still need to be some greater purpose to the account in the first place? I mean, maybe it’d generate some interest in the brand, but I feel like it should do more, too. Maybe I misunderstand and you’re recommending pairing this with some other sort of marketing endeavor.

    Dining services on my campus started using Twitter at the beginning of last year. I was EXTREMELY impressed (and surprised)!


  4. Avatar image
    Jonathan Kash Says:

    Thanks for highlighting my project, Karlyn! What started as an experiment has grown considerably.

    In moving to a wiki format, I’ve been inviting people to contribute to the site. Dell and others use this resource to present up to date info to users. Anyone interested should drop me a note!


  5. Avatar image
    Kirk Says:

    solid post! i signed for an account ages ago, and i have not really used it that much right now… but hey, this post inspires me to use the power of twitter…


  6. Avatar image
    Shelby Thayer Says:

    Great post Karlyn. So many great uses within higher ed.

    Along with promotions and incentives, what about specific schools within the university getting involved? Application/registration/news/info/updates deadlines from the business school, the communications school, etc. So many possibilities.

    The athletics use is brilliant too.


  7. Avatar image
    Clicksharp Internet Marketing Says:

    It’s true that the higher ed case studies are pretty lean. I also looked into the Brand Index (great site!) and found Michigan State Univ. to be the most active — but not necessarily innovative.

    But also consider that one SPECULATED use is for emergency communications… I’ve heard that the Virginia Tech calamity left a lot of universities exploring SMS-based systems for these circumstances.


  8. Avatar image
    Candle Glass Says:

    I was also unaware of the uses of Twitter until now…thanks for the aritcle!


  9. Avatar image
    Maya Says:

    great post!I was unaware of some of the ways twitter is being used until i recently found some other post about it.


  10. Avatar image
    yimzwik | Make Money Online Says:

    If you are not using Twitter as a social marketing tool yet, I suggest you get a move on and sign up. We will be looking at what Twitter can do for your business (e.g. trying to sell an online product) or blog’s image, relationship-building, viral marketing, and networking, and how it can help you make more money online.


  11. Avatar image
    michigan attractions Says:

    Everything advertises on Twitter as it is. I agree, why not education?


  12. Avatar image
    Ismael Ahmed Says:

    Giving people a reason to follow you is paramount…and then sticking with it. Same basic strategy as making a “sticky” site. If you don’t consistently provide value, why would anyone care?


  13. Avatar image
    Ismael Ahmed Says:

    I think that if higher education learned to truly harness Twitter it could be a very valuable tool. Many college students use Twitter and Facebook on a regular basis, often as an excuse to avoid homework.

    Such a valuable communication tool can be used to effectively and quickly spread important information. However, it should not replace other forms of communication, such as emailing and newsletters. It should just be considered yet another valuable way to communicate with students.


  14. Avatar image
    twitter marketing Says:

    I just found a great squidoo article on twitter advertising i hope you all find interesting,


  15. Avatar image
    Train Horns Now Says:

    I guess I don’t really get Twitter because I’m so new to it, but it doesn’t seem like that powerful of a marketing tool. At least for eCommerce stores anyway. I don’t really think people wanting to buy items online go to Twitter to shop. The folks in Twitter are there to BS with each other and that’s about it.


  16. Avatar image
    Roger Bovee Says:

    I have tried to use Twitter as a marketing tool but you need to be careful you don’t overdo it.



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